Making the most out of the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly no small undertaking, yet the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) has turned lemons into lemonade with the opening of the second production of its 2020-2021 season: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Written by Philip Grecian and directed by Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer, assistant professor of voice, speech and dialects in the UConn Department of Dramatic Arts, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is CRT’s first ever audio play undertaking, following the format of the radio play broadcasts popular in the post-war era of the film’s setting.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” chronicles the life of protagonist, George Bailey, who dreams big, hoping to shake the dust of his crummy little hometown of Bedford Falls off his feet to see the world. After numerous roadblocks keep him from his dreams, George wonders what good he has done for the world and whether he should continue. His guardian angel Clarence hopes to rescue him one fateful Christmas Eve night, seeking to remind him of what truly matters.
The problem with recreating such a classic piece of popular culture as the 1946 Frank Capra classic is always making sure that the production can live up to and build off of the original phenomenon. Truthfully, “It’s a Wonderful Life” holds a very special place in my heart as my all-time favorite holiday film. While I may be the only UConn student to say that, I was particularly interested in what CRT would do to produce a unique and revitalized version of the story.
I have to say, my favorite element of CRT’s production was the inclusion of the 1940s-style commercials throughout the play. The various advertisements of the bustling businesses of Bedford Falls, added to the nostalgic atmosphere of the evening. It made it feel as though idyllic communities like Bedford Falls really do exist. With the divided nature of communities today, it was incredibly refreshing to believe in a world where people can come together to help a neighbor in need.
I have to commend the immense talent of the production’s cast. Emotion and character are conveyed largely through body language and facial expressions, so having to bring one’s character to life solely using voice is no small undertaking. Nick Luberto (George Bailey) and Jamie Feidner (Mary Hatch) drove the story as the production’s leading lad and lady. Their dialogue allowed the audience to picture their love story unfolding, even if we weren’t able to see it live.
I would also like to commend the cast for bringing a distinct personality to each of the iconic characters. With 60 characters in the play, I had to remind myself that they were a cast of 14 performers voicing all of the roles.
Would I say that this show was the greatest CRT production I have ever seen? No, but that is to be expected when the classic spectacle of live entertainment is stripped to only sound.
That being said, I will say that this has been, and quite possibly will be, the best piece of theatre of the pandemic. The story showcases timeless themes that remain relevant to modern audiences living in 2020.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” has a simple yet powerful message: you matter. While it may be difficult to see the value in one’s life when looking at the wide scope of humanity, we all have the power to enact good in the world. By having a positive impact on one person’s life, you instantly have changed the world for the better.
While we may not be able to move mountains or solve all the world’s problems while sitting in the isolated world of COVID-19 quarantine, we certainly can still do good things and lead good lives. CRT’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” reminds us of the importance of community and kindness. Community and kindness were able to help George Bailey get through hard times, and community and kindness can help us get through the hard times of 2020.
Performances will be running this week from Wednesday, Nov. 18 through Saturday, Nov. 21. For more information or to purchase tickets to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” visit their website, or call their box office at 860-486-2113.